There is a close relationship between Vladimir Putin, president of Russia and Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of the country’s somewhat autonomous Chechnya region. Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, formerly of the International Crisis Group, writes in the New York Times that civil unrest could be coming to Russia, and that the bond between Putin and Kadyrov could become crucial to the future. She writes:
Mr. Kadyrov, often referred to simply as Ramzan, cultivates a reputation for helping the needy and sick. He had helped release Russian journalists detained in Ukraine and had rescued Russian marines captured in Libya. This reputation has inspired desperate Russians to start appealing to him by sending video messages — a mode of address once the prerogative of President Vladimir V. Putin during yearly televised call-in shows.
With millions of people following his social media accounts, the Chechen leader has growing clout, and his approval ratings among ordinary Russians are rising. A former separatist militant whose powerful clan swapped sides in 1999 and supported Mr. Putin during the second Chechen war, Mr. Kadyrov has ruled Chechnya for over 10 years. In that time he has turned the former breakaway republic into a state within a state in Russia, with its own laws, security services, taxation system and even foreign policy.
Mr. Kadyrov’s inner circle publicly refers to Ramzan as “padishah,” or “king,” and treats him as royalty. He commands the full obedience of Chechnya’s citizens thanks to widespread violations of rights and a climate of fear around the republic’s powerful security services. Mr. Kadyrov’s style — as a strongman who doesn’t mince words, solves problems and can either buy or bully anyone into submission — has gained appeal as Russia itself continues on its journey toward populist autocracy.
Today, Mr. Kadyrov is a vivid reflection of Mr. Putin’s third presidential term: fiercely ideological and conservative, with great emphasis on traditional values and macho nationalism.
The Chechen leader is believed to depend on Mr. Putin for protection from his enemies in the upper echelons of the Russian security establishment. Chechnya is heavily reliant on federal funding, and without money, Mr. Kadyrov’s loyalists would quickly thin out to a few dozen relatives and friends. Thousands of Chechens who have suffered grave abuses are waiting for a chance for revenge.
There is a growing public awareness of the enormous potential for conflict over Chechnya and that the alliance between the two strongmen is very contingent and highly personalized. But their very interdependence makes the Putin-Kadyrov bond very powerful. If the civil unrest that’s forecast for Russia materializes, that bond is likely to be reinforced.
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